.. it is true that this [skill] had not always been observed as the principle of appointment, but it was thought best to follow the best examples … it is indeed far the most painful part of my duty, under which nothing could support me but the consideration that I am but a machine erected by the constitution for the performance of certain acts according to laws of action laid down for me, one of which is that I must anatomise the living man as the Surgeon does his dead subject, view him also as a machine & employ him for what he is fit for, unblinded by the mist of friendship.
To Benjamin Rush, June 13, 1805
Patrick Lee’s Explanation
When can a leader appoint a friend to a job?
Jefferson wrote to one old friend explaining his thinking in appointing another friend as Director of the Mint. The appointee was noted mathematician Robert Patterson. (Patterson was one of the scholars. who tutored Meriwether Lewis prior to his epic journey west. So was Dr. Rush. Both did so at Jefferson’s request.)
Jefferson cited the appointments of two men, Isaac Newton in England and David Rittenhouse in America, as examples of skilled mathematicians appointed to positions that demanded such skills. Both men were well-received by their countrymen. Patterson would be similarly approved.
Jefferson hated the personnel aspect of his job and sought cover by comparing himself to a medical examiner. As that one was charged with dissecting dead bodies, Jefferson was required to dissect live ones, examining what he found within, looking for fitness for office. The Constitution turned him into nothing more than “a machine.” If he found a man fit, as he did Patterson, his friendship with the man was no longer a factor.